A Rising Bicycle Tide in Mexico City

ebrard.jpgBack in April, Marcelo Ebrad, the mayor of Mexico City, announced he wanted those who worked in his administration to ride bicycles to work one day a month (at right, Ebrard, center, kicks off the program). Many were shocked at the idea, or simply laughed it off. But this excellent article in the San Diego Union details how the mayor's decree to his employees has meshed with several other initiatives to raise the profile of bicycling as a legitimate form of transportation in the traffic-clogged city:

Four months later, the officials have warmed up to the idea of riding bicycles to work, especially after 47-year-old Ebrard - who smokes and is not fond of exercise -- warned them their jobs depended on their participation.

No one expects their efforts to bring a flood of bicycles into Mexico City's crowded streets. But the ambitious program has sparked a national discussion about the auto congestion and pollution that are choking the capital city.

Since the program began, tens of thousands of Mexico City residents have taken to the streets on Sundays, when Ebrard's government has closed the downtown thoroughfares to vehicular traffic.

Men and women, young and old, fill the wide avenues with everything from vintage bikes to skates and scooters.

"Magnífico!" enthused Juan Carlos Espinosa, a 30-year-old computer programmer, as he used in-line skates to glide down elegant Reforma boulevard. "This is what we need to motivate us to exercise."

The government plans to build 186 miles of bike lanes and install bike racks at Metro stations and outside hundreds of city buildings. Mexico City even started a loan program so people who don't own bikes won't be left out.

The plan has gained the support of the World Bank, which is giving Mexico City a $100,000 grant to design a master plan to make the city bicycle-friendly.

"Many people have looked at Mexico City's traffic problems and thrown their hands in the air. This mayor is not doing that," said Michael Replogle, president of the New York-based Institute for Transportation Policy, who was in Mexico City last week to work with city officials on the bicycle project.

Photo: Associated Press